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Why Mental Performance Coaching Matters...Or Does It?


Whenever I talk to a group of athletes, coaches, parents or administrators I usually start out with the same question -


“How much of the game that you play, coach, or are a part of, is mental?” If it’s a group setting, I generally see lots of head nodding (or shaking), smiles start to form, and then small murmurs and mumbling. You might be able to decipher some of it, but generally I have to get them to give me a more definitive, vociferous response.


“How much of the game is mental? Let’s hear some answers.” I, now, start to hear the answers.


“70%...”


“80%...”


“90%!!”


There is generally an overwhelming majority of those polled in these settings that indicate that mindset, the mental game, however way you want to title it, plays a huge part in the game. It does not matter the sport, mental performance has a large impact on performance and at the end of the day, true enjoyment of the game.


Final question -


“How much do you work on it?”


Silence.


I might hear some folks sheepishly and quietly provide answers such as “Not much,” or “Barely any time at all.”


So, if mental performance and mindset is important and a critical piece to the overall development of an athlete, why are we not taking advantage of every opportunity that we can to jump on that train and ride it to better performance, more fulfillment as an athlete and just pure joy of playing and getting the most out of our own athletic ability?


The hesitation is unique. A baseball player spends hours every year, both in the off-season and in-season taking batting practice. Whether it’s hundreds of soft toss, some medium throws from a coach, pitching machine, or live, they are taking lots, and lots, and lots of swings.


Futbol players spend hours practicing their dribbling in the backyard, or corner kicks at the local pitch.


Hockey players try and get on the ice as much as possible, rightly so, to work on their skill set on the ice. Knowing how precious ice time is, I get it. Many use their garage, basement, or driveway to practice stickhandling, toe drags, and shots.


Golfers will spend hours on the driving range or hitting into a net.

All worthwhile. All needed. The work you put into a skill generally means that you will get that much more out of it on the performance end. (There is always a balance, however).


But the mental game? “Not much.”


“But is it important?”


“Well, now that I stop and give it some thought, yeah it is. It’s extremely important!”


As an athlete, many work on what they are told to work on, or what they feel are the most common elements to work on such as extra batting practice, chipping in your backyard, slapshots in the basement.


When I was in high school, there was no such thing as a Strength and conditioning coach or an athletic trainer. Maybe one of the coaches (usually football) was a lifter and would work through some weight training routines with the players that they could use. That was about it. An athletic trainer? Good one!


Now, if a high school, no matter how small, does not have a strength and conditioning coach and/or an athletic trainer, it is seen as backwards or odd. They may not be on staff, but they may have contracted out with a local healthcare organization for the trainer or for both.


Why? Now it’s mainstream. When I was in high school if you mentioned either one, you were thought of as an alien with three heads. When you asked someone about strength and fitness training, or having an athletic trainer close by, they knew how important both were, but didn’t implement that until one started, then another, and another. Now it’s common. It is a “best practice.”


I use high school as just one example where the physical part of athletics has evolved. Now these professionals are a normal part of that experience as well as in many other athletic environments.


But think if you were at the forefront of that wave. What could that have done for you as an athlete, for your team as a coach, for your athletic department as an administrator?


Why not mental performance? Why is that not more a part of mainstream athletics both individually and collectively?


There are a myriad of reasons.


One common response is that mental performance coaching is just for professionals and elite athletes. Actually, a vast majority of athletes that mental performance coaches work with are middle school, high school, and non division I athletes.


Another unfortunate response is that there is still, STILL, a stigma associated with anything that has the word “Mental” or “Psychology” in it. Mental performance coaching can help with easing the frustration and the unhappiness that can infiltrate an athlete, help them increase their confidence, work with and react better to mistakes, provide an ability to trust their skills and can help bring out the best possible version of themselves as possible. All this leads to more fulfillment, happiness, and enjoyment of the sport itself, as well as being able to take this new mental skill set to other life areas.


Another major response relates to cost.


How much do we spend individually on new equipment (cleats, skates, hockey and lacrosse sticks, baseball gloves, etc.). Not only that, but how much do we spend on personalized lessons (hitting/pitching coach, goalie coach, personal trainer, etc.)? We all want the best coaching to bring out the best in our athletes, so we invest those dollars into personalized instruction.


These are all valid and understandable. However, we can balance that with regular work on our mental game. If we truly believe that mindset and mental preparedness is a vital part of our sport, then we need to look at what that means to integrate that into our practice and coaching plans.


Whether we are an athlete, coach, administrator, or parent, let us ask the questions again -


How much of the game is mental? How much do we work on it?


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